Afro-French, French Blacks are French citizens who are black and reside in France, who may come from francophone Africa or the Caribbean, and South American departments--Martinique, Guadeloupe, Reunion, or Guiana.

The French Republic holds that race does not exist. This perspective has made blacks invisible in the society. Because race does not exist, France does not collect data on race and ethnicity. It is estimated that 5-6 million blacks live in France, of which 3.5 million are of African roots (French Interior Ministry estimate). The majority of Afro-French were born in France. 


Early Origins

Blacks began entering France after 1632, when France founded colonies in Martinique and Guadeloupe and became fully engaged in plantation slavery. Slaves would accompany their masters in France. Some slaves were in France to acquire training in the various trades. No laws were in place governing slaves until the Edict of October 1716. The Declaration of 1732 reiterated the Edict of October 1716, but with a bit more bite.

Timeline of Afro-French History

1685 Code Noir pass, governing treatment of slaves in Antilles
1777 Police Des Noirs requires all blacks in France registered
1780s Haitian holdings makes France very wealthy
1791 Haitian Revolution under Boukman
1792 Julien Raimond, a Haitian, founded the Black Legions
1794 France abolishes slavery
1804 Napoleon re-institutes slavery
1825 Haiti agrees to pay France an indemnity for revolution,
          indemnity takes 50% to 80% of Haiti's budget annually
1834 Revue Des Colonies published, 1st journal of black culture
1848 Slavery abolished, finally, in all territories
1857 Tirailleurs Senegalais is founded by Louis Faidherbe
1919  “Harlem Hell Fighters” ,369th Infantry Regiment, the awarded the French Croix de Guerre
1935 Aimé Césaire coins the word Négritude in L'Etudiant noir
1945 Constituent Assembly formed 9 afr. deputies;600 afr. rep.
1946 50 blacks served as deputies or senators
1947 Présence Africaine, literary journal, promote black culture
1949 Félix Éboué burried in Pantheon-highest honor for a French
1972 Bill outlaws racial discrimination
1980 National Front Party founded by Jean Marie Le Pen
1984 SOS Racisme formed by Harlem Desir
1998 France wins World Cup Lilian Thuram at helm

The Declaration required that all slaves be registered. Slaves could not marry without their masters consent. They could not be freed unless by will. Since the Edict and the Declaration was not passed by the Parlement of Paris, it had no bite. A few slaves petitioned the Parlement for their freedom and won. In the latter part of the 1700s, fear of a large black population began to be expressed. Out of the latter fear, the Police Des Noirs was passed in 1777, which required all blacks, free or slaves, to be registered. All lawsuits for freedom was suspended. It forbade blacks entering the country. Its proponents, made sure the Parlement of Paris passed the law so it could be enforce. The law went largely un-enforced. Slave-holders continued bringing their slaves.

During the 1700s, blacks contributed greatly to France. Blacks fought for France in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napolieonic Wars. Julien Raimond, a Haitian, founded the Black Legions and defended Paris from attacks of Prussians and Austrians in 1792. Joseph "Hercule" Damingue and his "Battalion of Black Pioneers" fought with Napoleon in his Italian and Egyptian Campaigns.


In the early part of the 1800s, the anti-slavery movement gained great momentum. Many Black anti-slavery advocates resided in France. Prominent among them were Adzée Louisy, Lois T. Houat, and Mondésir Richard. In 1834 Revue Des Colonies was publish, the first literary journal devoted to black culture, founded by Cyril Charles Bissette. In 1851, it received the "Legion of Honor" from the French government.

In 1848, France emancipated all slaves in their colonies. This was largely due to production of sugar from sweet beets in France. Slave labor was no longer necessary for sugar production. France also created a 750 member legislature, some of its members were black, like Auguste Périnnon and Cyril Charles Bissette. Also a large influx of Black and mix race individuals began entering France after 1830, due to the offering of scholarships by the government to Black heads of its territories, famous of those immigrants were Guillaume Guillon, August Lacaussade from Réunion, Victor Sejour from Guadeloupe, Pierre Dalcour, and Louis and Camille Thierry.

During the 1800s, France set its sights on Africa, with notion of superiority and bringing civilization to the dark continent, and most important acquiring wealth. It embarked on conquest. Some blacks assisted in this conquest. Alfred Amédéé, one of the few black generals in the French army led the French conquest of Dahomey(1892-1883).
During the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s, numerous black artist and scholars visited and made France home. Julien Girard, a Guadeloupean scholar of Latin and Greek visited and became a professor of philosophy at the Lycee Louis-de-Grand. African American scholars such as Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller and Henry Ossawa Tanner became residents of Paris. Prominent African American leaders like Ira Aldridge, Frederick Douglas, W.E.Dubois, and Booker T. Washington visited France. They were all well treated. This later lead to the  myth of a "color blind" France.

Early 1900s and World War I

By the early 1900s and World War I, we saw a greater presence of blacks in French society. Black soldiers made up 40% of the soldiers in the French army that fought in the Crimean War. They comprised a large number in the army that fought in the Franco-Prussian War. Come World War I, the French army was comprised of 130,000 African soldiers. They saw combat in every major battle. The Tirailleurs Senegalais, who would later occupy Gernan Rhineland, fought with great distinction. 200,000 African American soldiers fought on the side of the Allied forces.

Around this time we saw the introduction of Jazz by African-American soldiers and great interest in African artistic sensibilities. European artists found these art form exotic and sought inspiration from them. Picasso, Matisse, and Derain incorporated African elements in their work. Maurice Ravel incorporated jazz elements in classical pieces.

Because of its expanded colonial territories, every French cabinet had a black representative. Gratian Candace, a black Frenchman, was elected in 1938 as Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies.

We also saw increase Afro-French Intellectual activities. In 1919, W.E.B. Dubois organized the Pan-African Congress in Paris. The social gathering of the Nadal Sisters and the publication of Revue Du Monde Noir, a mouthpiece for the Négritude Movement, which explored the meaning of blackness. The movement was founded by Leopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and Claude Mckay. In 1921, Martinican writer René Maran won the Prix Gon Court, a very prestigious prize in literature.

World War II and After

During World War II, a quarter of a million African American troops took part in the liberation of Paris.

After the war, there was great Afro-French intellectual output.The Présence Africaine began publication in 1947, led by Alioune Diop, which propagated African literature. In 1956, the Congress of Negro Artist and Writers was organized by Amé Césaire, Leopold Senghor, David Diop, and Richard Wright. In 1950, the Grand Prix de la Mer et de l'Outre-mer, a literary prize for black writers in Fance and the colonies. African American artist like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Chester Himes resided in France.

Much political activities took place. The Fourth Republic(1946-1958) was formed with a large black presence. The president of the chamber was Martinican Gaston Monnerville. Fifty blacks served in the French legislature as deputies and senators. The colonies had representative in the French legislature, till they chose independence in 1958. In 1949, French Guianese Félix Éboué, who sided politically with Charles De Gaule, was buried in the Pantheon, the highest honor a citizen can receive.

Post 1960

In 1961, the black population in France was 30,000-40,000. Anti-black sentiments began to increase in French society. It sprang from anti-Afro-Arab attitudes, particularly attitudes towards Algerians. Because of increase discrimination the French goverment passed an anti-discrimination law.

By the 1980s, the black population swelled to 200,000. We also saw the rise of the National Front Party, which blamed immigrants for France's economic ills, job loss to Frenchmen, and increased crime. The term "immigrants" were used as a euphemism for blacks and Afro-Arabs of North African origins. Immigrants were typically blacks and Afro-Arabs born in France. In 1984, SOS-racisme was formed by Blacks, Jews, and Arabs. Led by Martinican, Harlem Désir, the organization staged anti-discrimination, anti-police harassment rallies.

By 1998, 350,000 West Africans were living in France and 400,000 West Indians. 

In 2005 and 2007, Paris experienced major riots, triggered by police harassment and profiling. The police routinely stopped anyone with just a suspicion and request identification card, Blacks and Afro-Arabs in the suburbs were disproportionately checked. 

It was rumored that top French soccer officials were considering putting a quota of 30% on black and Arab  players after a training strike by such players in the World Cup. This was rumored after France dropped out of the World Cup.

Current Status

Afro-French are French citizens, but are never truely viewed as part of the society. They are typically viewed as foreign even if they were born, multigeneration and knows only French culture, or have been in the nation all their life. Most tend to live in the suburbs of Paris, in large high rise complexes. 

Very little literature has been written about Afro-French. They are almost invisible. More literature on African-Americans exist in France than on French Africans and Antilleans. Recently, an uptic in Afro-French organization has been noted. Organizations like the Council Representative of Black Associations (CRAN), Au Delà Des Mots (Beyond the Words), and  Devoir De Mémoire (To Have Memory) have emerge as a voice of Afro-French. 

Famous Afro-French

Thierry Henry, Guadeloupean and Martiniquais descent
Calixthe Beyala, from Cameroon
Harry Roselmack, Martiniquais descent
Audrey Pulvar, Martiniquais descent
Rama Yade, Senegalese descent
Jean-Marc Mormeck, Guadeloupean descent
Claude Makelele, born in Democratic Republic of Congo
Malamine Koné, of Malian descent
Ladji Doucouré, Malian descent
Lassana Diarra, Malian descent
Djibril Cissé, Senegalese descent
Jean-Alain Boumsong, from Cameroon
Patrick Lozès, of Beninese descent
Christiane Taubira, of Guyanese descent
Patrice Evra, born in Senegal but of Cape-Verdean ancestry
Pascal Nouma
Mamadou Niang
Bernard Lama
Yannick Noah
Riner (judo) 
Henri Salvador, Guyanese descent
Laura Flessel, Guadeloupean descent
Aly Cissokho, Malian descent
Jessy Matador, from Democratic Republic of Congo
Lord Kossity, Martiniquais descent
Oxmo Puccino, Malian descent
Mamadou Sakho, Senegalese descent
Myriam Soumaré, Mauritanian descent
Isabelle Giordano, Antillese descent
Christine Arron, Guadeloupean descent
Karine Le Marchand, Burundi descent 
Sabine Quindou (probably Antillese) 
Sophie Ducasse, Centrafrican descent
Vanessa Dolmen, Martiniquese descent

Works Cited

Babana-Hampton, Safoi. Black French Intellectualism and the Rise of Afro-European Studies: a review of Pap     Ndiaye's La condition noire: Essai sur une minorité françaiseTransition - Issue 101, 2009, pp. 144-149

Dreyfuss, Joel. France's New Racial Crisis: Soccer. The Roots, May 1, 2011. retrieved 13-Nov-2011 

Herve, Epee. Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: France's Forgotten People. retrieved 13-Nov-    2011

French People of Black Ancestry (Afro-Frenchs). retrieved 13-Nov-2011